You’ve got to persuade Jai Opetaia to discuss hypotheticals when he has a fight coming up.
The Australian cruiserweight is in London to defend his IBF title against Jordan Thompson this week, and while he is full of respect for Thompson and maintains his focus is only on the Englishman, the southpaw puncher has medium and long-term goals and aspirations that reach beyond Saturday.
Opetaia also had alternatives before signing to box for Matchroom. It seemed he could be headed towards a deal with Boxxer, but instead joined Eddie Hearn’s company to box on DAZN.
“Yeah, there was a lot of talking, obviously you know there’s a lot of politics and stuff that happens outside of the ring, but we’re signed with Matchroom now so that’s all that matters and I’m excited for the future,” Opetaia explained. “A Tasman fighter and Matchroom together. You know, we’ve got to get this fight out of the way first September 30, and then we’re planning on big moves.”
Boxxer have Richard Riakporhe, former WBO champion Lawrence Okolie and reigning champion Chris Billam-Smith, who sits atop of Opetaia’s wishlist.
“He’s a tough fighter, but I think I can beat him,” Opetaia added. “I take one fight at a time, to be honest. This September 30 [against] Jordan Thompson has taken my full focus; we wanted to get this done first, but you know my eyes are on that WBO [title]; Chris Billam-Smith, I would love to fight him for that WBO. I’ve wanted the WBO my whole pro career, so I’m willing to fucking do whatever it takes to get that belt.”
Does he foresee difficulties making that fight, given that the Bournemouth icon is one of Boxxer’s flagship fighters?
“I don’t understand why a promoter’s going to get in the way of us fighters, you know what I mean?” said Opetaia, clearly talking like a fighter first, and one who hopes he can will that fight into existence. “We’re the ones in the ring, and we’re the ones training hard, doing all the hard work. Why do these people outside the ring have to get in our way for accomplishing our goals? You know what I mean?
“I don’t think it should matter, who I fight under or who he fights under. We’re both two world-class cruiserweights and we both should be fighting. I’ve got the IBF; he’s got the WBO. It just doesn’t make sense for it not to happen.”
Opetaia wants to keep things simple. He wants to be the best he can be and he wants the biggest fights he can get. He insists he only fights to provide for his family and that that is what drives him.
“I’m on my own journey and I’ve got my own goals,” he snarled.
But the 200lbs division is lively, and should he come through Thompson, there will be more lucrative opportunities. For the first time, Artur Beterbiev has talked about moving up from light-heavyweight, and Dmitrii Bivol, the other leading 175-pounder, might also eventually move north.
Opetaia is not bothered who enters the fray at cruiserweight.
“I don’t care, to be honest,” he spat. “I’m not looking at anyone outside of who I’m looking at right now. I’m heading in the direction to get all the belts. Whether they move up to cruiserweight or not, it doesn’t bother me. If our paths cross and I have to beat them later on, then so be it. But right now, Jordan Thompson is in my way, and he’s taken my full focus.”
If Opetaia can kick on from his impressive win over Mairis Briedis and put recent injuries and inactivity behind him, he will likely be calling more shots moving forwards.
“My dream night would be at my hometown on the Central Coast; Gosford Stadium; fighting for another world title; a unification,” the champion said. “I don’t look at other places and other countries like, ‘I want to fight there’. I want to bring that shit to my home. I’m putting my country on the map. I want to bring the big fights here to Australia. They look at Australia and they put us in a box; the Oceania region and Australia; they look at us fighters like we don’t deserve to be with the Europeans and the Americans, and stuff like that.
“We’ve always been put in a box, and I’m coming there to show you that I’m breaking the box and I’m tearing it up. There’s no more box here. We’ve got what it takes down this neck of the woods and I’m coming to show that.”
Opetaia is a prickly customer. He is intense. He has attitude. He is a fighting man and he talks like one. That is an admirable quality, and this is not his first trip to the UK. He boxed in London in the 2012 Olympics, and although he did not make it out of the first round, it was an experience he fondly recalled.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” he said. “Representing my country every time I step in the ring, it’s a proud moment for me. I fly two flags, I fly the Australian flag and the Samoan flag, and to be in the ring and fly [it for] them, it’s an honour. I feel grateful that I get to do that, but at the same time I’m hungry and I know I deserve to be there as well. I put in the hard work. I train like a world champion and I train like a winner.
“I’m coming there [at Wembley on Saturday] to make a statement. I’m coming to enemy territory. In my eyes, Jordan Thompson’s signed with Matchroom, even though we do these little deals and stuff, they all want me to fall, when I’m coming there to win. Like I said I’ve got a job to do. I’ve got a family to take care of, and this is what I have to do.”